Many more editions of Shalimar have been released throughout the years, but the 2012 Imperial Bijoux de Shalimar (priced at 450 euros) was perhaps the most stunning.
Jul 14, 2013
The Evolution of Shalimar
The Evolution of a Fragrance: Guerlain Shalimar
There are certain fragrances that care nothing for passing fads, compositions so essential to the history of perfume that they can never be thought of as dated. These are the classics, the formulations that inspire countless flankers, each strengthening the indisputable allure and relevance of the original.
In 1925, master perfume Jacques Guerlain (of the eponymous house) created the blend that would become Guerlain Shalimar, pairing effervescent citrus notes with heady florals and a sensual base of woods and spices. Its launch was nothing short of a sensation in France, with its sultry air of mystery and floriental bouquet. When Madame Raymond Guerlain wore the scent during her May 1925 transatlantic crossing aboard the Normandie, it became the talk of the ship. American passengers were bewitched by the originality of the fragrance, and clamoring to buy it even before its 1927 U.S. release.
“I first encountered Shalimar in the late 1960s and immediately loved it,” recalls master perfumer Mandy Aftel, who still has her advanced students recreate the scent. “It was my favorite perfume—I was immediately attracted to its ambery powdery exotic aroma. To me, it spoke of distant lands, far far away from Detroit, Michigan—which is where I grew up.”
If there’s one effect Shalimar seems to have on all, it is the ability to leave a lasting impression. The specifics differ based on the person, of course, but many have remarked upon the memorable nature of the blend, like those “weird, garish paint schemes, all bold strokes and vivid colors, used on WWI battleships,” writes Luca Turin in Perfumes, the A-Z guide.
Like all great perfumes, Shalimar itself has quite the story to tell. Jacques Guerlain drew inspiration from the classic love story of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, the man who built the Taj Mahal. Mumtaz Mahal was betrothed to Emperor Jahan when she was only 14, but when their marriage took place five years later, legend has it that their love for one another had grown to unquestionable heights. When his wife died, the Emperor went into mourning for an entire year. It was only after this time that he appeared in public once more, but he had aged tremendously, his hair a shock of white. He immediately began erecting a splendid mausoleum in her honor, a monument so grand it would become one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
400 miles away from the Taj Mahal lay the royal gardens, which the Emperor had also overseen in his wife’s honor. These terraced gardens were overflowing with marble structures and burbling fountains, a paradise of greenery built as a living tribute to eternal love. He named them the Gardens of Shalimar. Centuries later, Jacques Guerlain would resurrect the name, conferring it to his fragrance. The inspiration can easily be seen in the bottle design, as Guerlain fashioned the stopper to resemble the top of the Taj Mahal.
Over the years, Guerlain has released numerous flankers inspired by Shalimar, consistently paying homage to the original bottle. When Jade Jagger redesigned the bottle for its 85th anniversary in 2010, she kept the blueprint of the now-famous design, softening the curves a bit for a modern update. And just this year, the house released yet another addition to the expansive lineup of Shalimar compositions with Shalimar Ode à la Vanille sur la Route de Mexique. But no matter how many transformations Shalimar goes through, it never veers far from Guerlain’s original vision. And perhaps that is just as Jacques Guerlain would have intended it, to make a perfume so forceful, so original, that its foundation would be able to withstand almost a century of scent. From Brooke Shields to Natalia Vodianova, Shalimar still has a place on many-an-iconic-woman’s nightstand. “It is not intended for the man who smells it too soon, arm in arm on the way to the taxi. Nor is it a proper boudoir fragrance,” comments Turin, “Its uniquely sweet, penetrating tune is supposed to deftly command attention.” Could there be anything more desirable?
When the perfume was first released in the 1920s, it inspired the phrase “There are three things that good girls don't do: smoke, do the tango, and wear Shalimar.” But if there’s one thing a woman of good taste does today, it is to seek out her nearest purveyor of Guerlain and purchase a bottle, if only to add a beautiful piece of history to her vanity. Check out our slideshow above to see the evolution of the scent, and remember to purchase a spare bottle of the original (plus a flanker or two).